A recent study has revealed that tiny premature infants fed with breast milk in the hospital performed better on mental developmental tests later in life than did those who were fed only formula.
This research has been the first to show the benefits of breast milk for babies born weighing less than 2 pounds, 3 ounces. The results of the study have been published in the July issue of Pediatrics. Medical advances have enabled hospitals to save more of these babies, some premature by about three months.
According to study co-author Dr. Betty Vohr of Brown Medical School brain development that should have normally occured in the womb during the third trimester of pregnancy must occur in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital for the premature infants. Ingredients in breast milk, particularly fatty acids appear to help the brain develop properly.
Researchers tracked 1,035 extremely low-birthweight infants born at 15 hospitals. About three-quarters of these babies received at least some breast milk in the hospital whereas a quarter of them received only formula.
In spite of taking education and income into account, the breast-milk fed babies scored higher on tests of mental development when they were 18 months old than the formula fed ones.
The research showed that the more breast milk the babies consumed, the better they performed on the tests.